TD Magazine

A Road Map to Developing Training

Monday, August 15, 2016

These basic training design strategies will enhance your presentations and entice learners to participate in the learning process.

Every year, the selection of appropriate training methods, learning materials, and instructional formats becomes more challenging because organizations demand to see a return on their investment. Trainers need to understand why and how to design and develop instructional strategies and should be knowledgeable in how to use the most widely accepted instructional formats.

Training variables and instruction

Designing training requires planning and organization skills. The best way to achieve an organized and structured training program is to design training while considering the training variables.

The term training variables covers various essential components that need to be included in training design and delivery. The word variable means an element that plays a specific role at a specific time. There are three distinct variables trainers need to include in design strategy: training purpose levels, learner levels and trainer roles, and trainer roles.

Variable 1: Training purpose levels

The purpose of this variable is to force trainers to think about the type of training they are designing and delivering. There are four training purpose levels: awareness, knowledge, motivation, and skill or behavior change. By incorporating the four levels in the design, trainers can be confident that they have solid, successful training events.

Awareness training enlightens learners and improves their awareness levels and attitudes on a specific subject. This level of training does not seek to change the learners' behaviors. An example of this is a new organization benefits training.

Knowledge training is designed to give learners improved knowledge about a specific issue. The amount of knowledge gained in the training program can be specific and tested. An example of this is a new product training.

Motivation training is designed to move learners to take specific actions that have specific benefits to someone or something. An example of this is an organizational change training.

Skill or behavior change training is designed to give learners the tools to perform differently on the job. Specific skill changes are taught, and the results of the training can be tested. The skills can include either personal (for example, time management or keyboard skills) or group (for example, team problem-solving processes) activities. An example of this is a social skills training.

Each training presentation should be created to fulfill one of the purpose levels. Once the training topic and instructional strategy are defined, trainers build on the road map using the other variables. The training purpose levels variable provides the focus for the training.

Variable 2: Learner levels and trainer roles

To explain this variable and how to use the concept to design and deliver training, trainers should remember that two dynamics are involved in teaching adults. The first dynamic is the relationship that trainers have with the training concepts they are delivering, the learner, and the instructional process trainers are using (that is, the trainer role).

The second dynamic is the content that is delivered (that is, the amount of data learners need to know, or learner level). The most important factor for this dynamic is the trainers' judgment, because they decide how much information and direction the learners receive about the learning situation and the learning cycle. This is best determined based on results of a needs assessment.

When trainers design their training material and develop their instructional strategies, they should keep in mind that some learners need a lot of information (written, spoken, and multimedia), whereas others have mastered the content and need only to occasionally check in with the facilitator. The degree to which trainers emphasize lecture and content and the amount of learning activity is an instructional design decision.

Variable 3: Trainer roles

There is no one way to design and deliver training; however, there is an instructional design strategy that trainers can use to define their role. The four roles that trainers can play are instructor, coach, facilitator, or consultant. These roles apply to both face-to-face and virtual learning environments. Each trainer role requires the trainer to make a decision as to what is required during the learning event (see "Trainer Roles" sidebar below).

The appropriate choice of role is based on the trainer's assessment of the learners and the amount of content and direction required to achieve the training outcome as defined by the lesson's learning objective statement. For example, if a trainer is introducing new material, and learners need a substantial amount of direction to understand and master the material, the trainer role assumed would be one of instructor. As the learners become more familiar with the learning content, and require less direction, the trainer assumes a different role.

Learning style preferences

Although there is no one comprehensive learning style theory that all researchers and trainers agree on, they do agree that individuals learn differently and learners exhibit preferences for processing the information to be learned.

The preferences most often identified have been classified as processing preferences, perceptual preferences, and other learning preferences that relate to the environment and emotions. This information is helpful when trainers make decisions about instructional strategies, the levels of the learners, and the role of the trainer.

Processing preferences. There are two ways that people process information. Global processors want to comprehend the big picture first and then work on comprehending the details that support the big picture, whereas analytic (or linear) processors want to comprehend the details first and work systematically toward grasping the big picture. The terms global and analytic also have been described, respectively, as right brain and left brain, sequential and simultaneous, and deductive and inductive.

Perceptual preferences. There are three preferences that people use to involve themselves with information presented: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. According to Rita Dunn, director of St. John's University Center for the Study of Learning and Teaching Styles, the learning style distribution in an average group is 30 percent to 40 percent visual, 20 percent to 30 percent auditory, and 30 percent to 50 percent kinesthetic.

Other learning preferences. Other preferences identified are the learning environment (for example, noisy versus quiet) and the emotionality of the learner, such as motivational elements and psychological factors.


Developing instruction around learning styles

Gathering information about an audience can be an important step in developing effective instructional strategies. To determine how the audience will learn best, trainers should assess the various learning styles of the training participants to help them design appropriate instructional strategies.

Most researchers believe that trainers should understand more than one learning style model so they can employ the model that is most appropriate for each learning situation. Whichever learning style assessment approach is used, trainers should consider how to incorporate the information they gather about their audiences. Researchers have focused on three areas in which to apply learning style information: self-awareness, course design, and instructional strategies.

Self-awareness. Several researchers recommend that trainers and learners go through assessment exercises so they have a greater self-awareness of their own learning styles. Trainers need to know what preferences they exhibit because their preferences may affect how they present information to learners. Learners also need increased self-awareness in these areas to help them be better learners.

Course design instructional strategies. In deciding how to use the audience's learning style preferences, there are three possible strategies. The first is to design a course focused on individual learning style strengths and preferences. The second is to design a course to help individuals improve on the weaker aspects of their learning styles, thus enabling them to become more flexible and adaptable to the variety of teaching methods they encounter. The third strategy is to use a combination and variety of teaching methods.

Matching methods and learning outcomes

Because instructional methods differ in their ability to influence knowledge, skills, and attitudes, trainers must be able to evaluate a method's utility and ability and make informed decisions about its use in their training. Training is all about providing instruction for the learners to acquire new skills or knowledge to enhance job performance. When trainers think about acquiring new knowledge, they should remember that knowledge is acquired at three levels:

  1. declarative—a process used when the learner stores the information for future use
  2. procedural—a process used when the learner understands how the information presented can be applied
  3. strategic—a process used when there is a need for planning, monitoring, or revising a goal-directive activity.

There will be times when trainers have to design a training program to include learning objectives in more than one area. To accomplish this task, trainers should combine several instructional methods into an integrated whole because no single method can do everything well. These various instructional methods can be divided into two broad learning categories: cognitive and behavioral. Either the behavioral or the cognitive instructional method can be used to change attitudes, although each does so through different means.

Cognitive methods. Cognitive instructional methods provide verbal or written information, demonstrate relationships among concepts, or provide the steps for how to do something. These methods stimulate learning through their effect on cognitive processes and are associated most closely with changes in knowledge and attitude. Cognitive methods are best for imparting knowledge or development.

Behavioral methods. Behavioral instructional methods allow the learners to practice using the newly acquired behavior in a real or simulated event. The methods stimulate learning through behavior and are best used for skill acquisition or behavior change.

Accelerated learning techniques

Several years ago, an association created a new training program for trainers. Much of the project time was spent researching the principles of learning, exploring how the mind worked, and defining the concept of multiple intelligences and how the concept applied to training design.

The final course design was creative, with color icons on pages instead of words, multicolored wall charts created to hang in the training room that told the story of the training program, and music played during the training session, specifically, in the beginning, ending, break, and project times. This course continues to ensure that every learner walks away from the class learning something and having fun doing so. It's important to note that, although this course was delivered face-to-face, many of the components can be translated easily for a virtual environment.

Structured learning events may include such accelerated learning techniques as:

  • back-home application
  • brainwriting and brainstorming
  • case study
  • collaborative activity
  • concert review
  • environing material
  • in-class demonstration
  • prework
  • reading assignment
  • structured note taking
  • skills and knowledge test
  • self-assessment.

Such varied techniques provide opportunities to plan, organize, and prepare training programs efficiently and economically. Structured events provide the road map for trainers to use to develop their content, as well as provide techniques and tips for them to be successful when delivering the training event.

This article is excerpted from chapter 2 of Training Design and Delivery: A Guide for Every Trainer, Training Manager, and Occasional Trainer, 3rd Edition (ATD Press).

Trainer Roles


  • provides guidance although not involved in the process
  • helps learners gain knowledge from experience and each other


  • acts as an adviser
  • provides subject matter expertise


  • provides guidelines, help, and direction
  • watches from the sidelines
  • observes, practices, and gives corrective feedback


  • provides detailed directions, foundational material, and structured learning events for learners to master the topic

Determining a Person’s Learning Style

With some background and understanding of learning style models, trainers can determine an individual’s learning style through various techniques:

  • Interview the person and inquire about learning preferences.
  • Observe the learner in learning environments.
  • Evaluate positive and effective learning experiences versus negative and ineffective ones.
  • Review the completed self-assessment questionnaire.

Choosing an Instructional Method

In assessing which methods to use, trainers should evaluate in the following five areas:

  • Are the models reliable and valid?
  • Is there widespread practitioner use?
  • Is there extensive research behind the models?
  • Can I visit places that are using the models I am interested in?
  • Can I obtain training so I know how to use individual styles to obtain increased achievement?

About the Author
Geri McArdle has been a practitioner in the human resource field for 25 years. She has published nine books on human productivity and numerous research journal articles in the area of human resource development and training. She has service as the coordinator of a Ph.D. program in human resource development at Barry University in Fort Myers, Florida, and is one of the ATD seven master trainers recognized by TD magazine. Her Ph.D. is from Syracuse University and is a Harvard University postdoctoral fellow.
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